Strange Intruder

May 29, 2013 at 12:11 am (6 Heads, Strange Intruder) (, , )

Strange Intruder – 1956 – United States

In a Korean P.O.W. camp, two American soldiers relate stories of their lives. During these exchanges, Paul (a musician) grows obsessed with Adrian’s (a doctor) loving family. After being mortally wounded, Adrian begs Paul to ensure his children will never be raised by another man, ominously whispering, “Better dead…than that.”

Back in America, Paul stays in a psychiatric hospital while suffering severe post-traumatic stress. On a weekend leave, he visits Adrian’s family. Wracked with grief, they force him to fill Adrian’s empty role. In his unbalanced state, Paul is confused when Adrian’s family differs from his idealization of them. He is especially distressed to discover that Adrian’s wife has been unfaithful. After meeting Adrian’s children, Paul is plagued by impulses to kill them, urged by Adrian’s voice. Eventually, Paul overcomes his murderous mania, instead clobbering Adrian’s wife’s blackmailing boyfriend. Realizing he is a long way from recovery, Paul returns to the psychiatric hospital, promising Adrian’s family he will come again when he is well.

That summary is lengthy due to Strange Intruder’s bewildering plot. Every character suffers some emotional condition. Their loneliness, guilt, or debilitating grief compels them to absurd and destructive action. Whether realistic or not, its implications are disturbing; war’s residual effects make everyone into basket cases. The film’s ending hammers this home, offering a mere smidgen of hope as Paul begins to understand the profound depths of his mental illness.

The script’s ambiguities seem unintentional, but powerful acting lends believability to the characters’ bizarre behavior. Paul is overwhelmingly compassionate even as he contemplates murder. Adrian’s wife is hysterical from shame, yet maintains great dignity. And Adrian’s family is so lost in sadness that they substitute Paul for Adrian without hesitation.

With dizzying angular shots, moody lighting, and a baffling narrative, Strange Intruder confounds its viewers into a state akin to its characters. This is mostly inadvertent, but it’s strongly immersive. It’s this overwhelming strangeness that makes Strange Intruder worth watching.

Rating: 6/10 Shrunken Heads. Adrian’s wife is played by Ida Lupino, an actress and director whose prolific career is at least as interesting as this movie.

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